1913 Matawai Bush Fires

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The following newspaper account of bush fires in Matawai are of interest to the Korte family because they occurred on the wedding day of Fred Korte and Elizabeth Redpath. Fred's two brothers Henry and Chris were unable to attend the wedding because they were attempting to prevent Fred's new house from burning down. The house survived the fire and is pictured above.

Newspaper Report

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Volume LXXXV, Issue 39, Saturday 15 February 1913, Page 9

GISBORNE, 14th February.

The Motu and Matawai districts are a mass of flame, fierce bush fires enveloping the surrounding country for a distance of about nine square miles.

Telephone wires in all directions are down, so that communication with the affected area is impossible, and details are very difficult to obtain.

Writing yesterday, a correspondent at Matawai, which appears to be the centre of the fire, said the settlers were suffering a deal of anxiety owing to the close proximity of bush fires raging in the neighbourhood. Mr. Korte, whose wedding day it was, was away from home, but his two brothers, who did not attend the wedding, after working until they were completely overcome by smoke and heat, finally left the house to take its chance. The house (a new one) strange to say, did not take fire after all, but Mr. Korte's brothers are badly affected in their eyes.

Sloan's sawmill was completely wrecked, and a good deal of valuable timber destroyed. Only three of the whares occupied by mill hands escaped. The hands had previously removed their belongings to Matawai, where they spent the night.

The crops of hay of most of the surrounding settlers were also destroyed.

Mr. James Gardner had his whare containing all his grass-seed burnt down by a second fire which broke out on the clearing on his section or run.


"From midday of Wednesday smoldering log fires, fanned by the rising wind, fairly took possession of this country," continues the correspondent. "By Wednesday afternoon a stretch of fourteen or fifteen miles of country, from Burnard's (just beyond Matawai) to Redpath's property at Rakauroa, on the one side, and Morice's property (Upper Motu Valley-road) to Rakauroa on the other, was a seething mass of flames. The settlers had an anxious and trying time around their homesteads, and in trying to rescue stock.

"By 9.30 p.m. on Wednesday the cottages of the mill-hands at Sloan's were alight, and the last glimpse of the site through the flames and smoke was the mill building and timber stacks burning furiously from both ends. Meanwhile the wives and families of the mill-hands had been hurriedly moved to Matawai, together with what household effects could be loaded on the three available bullock wagons. As much other portable property as could be collected in time was buried in pits and covered over with soil.

Fire picture

"The fire is now bearing down on Drummond's mill, and unless the wind drops and rain comes it too will be reduced to a heap of ruins.

"The fire along Motu Valley-road was a magnificent sight after dark. Fences and telephone wires are down in all directions. The Kortes were smoked out and had to shift. Messrs. Marshall's, Riddick's, King's, and Buscke's properties are surrounded by fire. The properties principally affected are: On the one side, Messrs. Burnard's, Blair's, Henson's and Green's, H. M. McKenzie's, Aitken's, Abbotsford's, Smith's, Smith Bros.', Redpath's, and beyond out to the front of Motu-road; on the other side, Messrs. Morice's, Marshall's, Riddick's, Maxwell's, King's, J. B. Clark’s, W. Clark's, Aitken's, Beaufoy's, Shaw's, and Grace's.

"To give an idea of the rapidity of the fire: At 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Sloans were cutting and working the mill as usual. Two hours later they were practically surrounded by fire. Very few went to sleep around the burning areas. In Rakauroa, pits were dug ready for the planting of household goods.


"Several of the co-operative men have been burnt out, and some stood by their camps all night."

"The situation is still very critical, and fresh fire-lines are advancing."

The surrounding hills were a mass of fire between Motu and Matawai.

This morning the fires were very fierce, especially in the vicinity of Hall's mill. Drummond's mill was dismantled this morning, in the hope of saving the machinery, but up to 10 a.m. had not been affected, though in imminent danger.

Mr. J. B. Clark, of Matawai, is a very heavy loser of stock, but to exactly what extent is not known.

The latest news to-night states that sharp rain has temporarily checked the fires about Matawai, but the danger is not by any means over. The telephone wire to Matawai and Rakauroa is now (10 p.m. Friday) down, and efforts are being made to communicate with the settlers per medium of the Public Works Department's telephone, which connects Gisborne with the railway works.

Mr. W. Turubull, of Messrs. Kells and Turnbull, states that he has been practically burnt out, over 3000 acres having been fired. The homestead was afire again on two occasions last night, but although alone he succeeded in putting out the flames. Logs in the vicinity are still smoldering, but the main fire has passed. Fortunately, Mrs. Turnbull was away in town. The loss of sheep is not expected to be heavy, as Mr. Turnbull succeeded in moving the bulk of the stock on Tuesday. Mr. Turnbull, who was practically blind yesterday, is recovering his eyesight, and the men who were sent from Mr Tullock's place are also recovering.